Seattle Police surveillance cameras: No activation decision yet

March 31, 2013 at 6:03 pm | In Seattle Police surveillance cameras, West Seattle news | 11 Comments

When we first reported two months ago on the new Seattle Police surveillance camera/wireless-mesh-communication system – after readers noticed cameras installed, unannounced, along Alki – SPD had expressed hopes of activating the system by March 31st – today.

Now that the date has arrived – in case you were wondering, we’ve verified it will come and go with no decision yet on when the system stretching from Fauntleroy to Ballard might be activated.

Mayor McGinn first said on February 11th, in a response to WSB, that “the system will not be operated without a thorough public vetting …” While he did not set specific criteria for that “vetting,” so far it has consisted of a briefing before the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee on February 20th (WSB coverage here), a briefing at the Alki Community Council‘s February 21st board meeting (WSB coverage here), an SPD-led briefing/Q-A session at Alki Bathhouse on March 12th (WSB coverage here, with video of the entire meeting), and a similar session one week later at Belltown Community Center.

We were not at that March 19th meeting, but privacy/technology activist Phil Mocek, who has closely followed and researched this, recorded and published its audio:

Grant/equipment-related documents he had sought through a public-disclosure request also are now available online.

With no updates since the March 19th meeting, we checked with the mayor’s office at week’s end to see the status of a possible decision. Spokesperson Aaron Pickus replied, “SPD is still putting together additional public meetings.”

The system was described as “port security” in the original May 2012 City Council discussions of the $5 million federal grant that’s paying for it, but in interviews and discussions over the past two months, police also have talked about other ways they, Seattle Fire, and others plan to use the camera system in developing public-safety situations. They also said for the first time at the Alki meeting on March 12th that images from the cameras would be made available to the public online – likely with a frame refreshing every two minutes or so.

For now, along with awaiting SPD word on the “additional public meetings,” we also are awaiting the department’s documentation of protocol for the cameras’ operation, as mandated by new city rules the council approved earlier this month. SPD had said those rules were being drafted by a “steering committee.” Its membership has not been disclosed; Mocek’s public-disclosure request regarding its membership is still awaiting fulfillment.

11 Comments

  1. Cameras allow us to monitor those who might stray from The Collective. Think of the uses this could be put to; catching those who might get too close to a seal pup, those who might desecrate driftwood, or utter something politically incorrect under their breath.

    I’m joking, but not by much.

    Comment by G — 6:15 pm March 31, 2013 #

  2. Now you’ve done it, G. They’re listening. Ooops. Too late. (also joking, but not by much…)

    Comment by Chuck & Sally's Van Man — 7:32 pm March 31, 2013 #

  3. I’m very thankful WSB continues to cover this. WSB is watching the watchers. :) They’re probably just trying to wait long enough so people forget… Thanks for keeping this on the horizon!

    Comment by Tuesday — 9:26 am April 1, 2013 #

  4. I’ve clearly missed this ‘thorough public vetting’ process. I’d encourage voters to unseat the incumbents. Time for *another* new mayor, and city council – if you share the train of thought that govt cameras have no place surveilling the American people.

    I too, am grateful that WSB is covering this.

    Comment by concerned on alki — 10:49 am April 1, 2013 #

  5. These cameras violate the right to freedom from unnecessary government intrusion into our citizens lives that I served in the Marine Corps hoping to protect. We are neither a fascist nor a communist country. These cameras should not be regulated–they should simply be removed. Now and forever.

    Comment by Mark Schletty — 11:02 am April 1, 2013 #

  6. Tired of this crap? Me, too. Solution? Two words:

    Paintball guns.

    Comment by Freewheelin Franklin — 6:04 pm April 1, 2013 #

  7. Like Mark Schletty comments.
    I’ve gone to a lot of the “vettings” and the police aren’t following the mayor or the council’s direction to vet the ideas. They clearly act as if it is a done deal and just want to show what “wonderful” things the spy cameras can do. Meanwhile, the people that show up want to address concerns and talk about if we need it-like citizens that were expecting a vetting.
    I believe we have to stop it now. Other politicians as shown by state legislators actions this session, become beholden to corporate interests that want to sell this equipment to every jurisdiction in the world. Profits over people’s rights. Btw, how would these cameras have stopped criminal activity along Alki this past weekend? Don’t keep asking that because law enforcement will mount face recognition and weapons to the cameras. Remember policies and laws regulating drones are still not figured out-if this is possible.

    Comment by citizen — 6:13 pm April 1, 2013 #

  8. I noticed tonight the new camera at Admiral & Olga, at the viewpoint. Wasn’t there some sort of moratorium on new installations?

    Comment by JKB — 11:54 pm April 1, 2013 #

  9. No, no moratorium. Only a stop on activating them till the mayor gives his approval. I photographed that new camera after noticing it earlier today but hadn’t reported on it yet and now it’s going to be tomorrow because of the shootings…

    Comment by WSB — 11:57 pm April 1, 2013 #

  10. The reason for views against public cameras is that they are often private cameras in public places. If the public had access to the feeds people would embrace them more.

    Comment by StunGunMike — 5:10 pm April 2, 2013 #

  11. I honestly don’t understand why people have an issue with these cameras. Are you planning on going off the grid? Because you wouldn’t be on Alki in that case anyway. Are you afraid your own illegal activities would be recorded? Don’t forget you are recorded by numerous privately owned cameras every day, and the owners of said security cameras rarely refuse to turn that information to the police. If anything these are just higher up and the process of accessing them is somewhat less convoluted for police.

    Comment by Boone — 10:49 pm April 2, 2013 #

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